Bennett’s government has made it clear that it intends to prop up the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News
Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have reacted angrily to the news that Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, slamming the meeting as “a betrayal” of the Palestinian people.
At the meeting on Sunday night, Israel offered the PA a sum of NIS 500 million ($155 million) in an arrangement described by Gantz on Monday as a loan.
“President Mahmoud Abbas’s meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz is a stab in the back of the Palestinian people and what they have sacrificed. It is a betrayal of the blood of the martyrs,” Hamas spokesperson Abd al-Latif al-Qanou said in a statement.
Another spokesman, Hazim Qasim, accused Abbas of “encouraging Arab countries to normalize with Israel” by agreeing to the meeting. “This weakens the Palestinian stance that rejects normalization,” Qasim said.
And a third spokesman was equally critical. According to Sami Abu Zuhri, Sunday night’s meeting was a “dangerous step.” Not only was it disrespectful, he said, but it also proved that the PA was more concerned with coordinating its actions with Israel than in supporting the Palestinian nationalist cause.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has a stronghold in Gaza, was in agreement. The group accused the PA of betraying the Palestinians by meeting with “the Zionist enemy.” In a statement, spokesman Tariq Silmi added: “The blood of children killed by the army on Gantz’s orders has not yet dried, even as President Abbas meets him in Ramallah.”
Bennett’s government has made it clear that it intends to prop up the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, which is polling poorly among Palestinians and is beset by financial mismanagement.
A statement from Gantz’s office revealed that he and Abbas had held a wide-ranging discussion, covering matters of security, diplomacy, economics and civil affairs.
“Gantz told [Abbas] that Israel is ready for a series of measures that would strengthen the PA economy,” the statement read. “The two also discussed shaping the security, civilian and economic reality in Judea, Samaria and Gaza.”
“I told Abbas that we aren’t going anywhere and that the Palestinians aren’t going anywhere. I went to the meeting in order to build confidence and preserve the interests of the State of Israel and the important ties we have with the Palestinian Authority, which I believe we need to strengthen,” Gantz said.
“We do not want the PA to collapse, but on the other hand, they are constantly flirting with terrorists,” Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (New Hope) told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster on Monday.
In addition to the loan, which is being used to circumvent an Israeli law requiring the government to withhold in taxes the amount paid by Ramallah to terrorist prisoners and the families of killed terrorists, the pair also agreed on moving ahead with Israel to give amnesty to illegal immigrants living in the West Bank.
As the first step toward this, the PA has agreed to work with Israel to give clemency to 5,000 undocumented spouses, a senior Palestinian official, Hussein Al Sheikh, confirmed.
However, an official close to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett downplayed the meeting, denying it had any role to play in a potential peace agreement.
“This is a meeting that deals with security issues. There is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians nor will there be,” the official said in a statement.
In response, Meretz MK Mossi Raz tweeted: “[This is an] outrageous message. Why not have a diplomatic process? A diplomatic process is in Israel’s interest.”
His party colleague, Meretz MK Yair Golan, was more welcoming, however, tweeting:
“The meeting… is an encouraging sign and another expression of the positive change that the new government brings. … The complexity of the conflict needs to be resolved with dialogue — this is the proper Zionist act.”
Meretz Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who met a number of weeks ago with his Palestinian counterpart, also praised the meeting, tweeting: “After a long and damaging disconnect of years with our closest neighbors, it is time to resume dialogue and cooperation with the PA.”